Not all rebuilding projects are created equal. For example, there's the quick teardown and gradual buildup like the Cavaliers employed, where everything moves at a logical speed and rhythm. There's the tank and save strategy, or what passes for a strategy. Even among the scorched earth society, there are inherent obstacles that make each long-range vision just a bit different.
Take the Magic. General manager Rob Hennigan inherited a large mess when he took over as general manager, and not all of it had to do with Dwight Howard. After years of trying to appease the big man, Orlando was bloated with mid-level deals for mid-level talent. In retrospect, trading Howard was the easy part.
Hennigan has moved at his own pace, which is to say, slowly. He has carefully picked up pieces while resisting the urge to dump his veterans for pennies on the dollar. Players like Jameer Nelson, whom he extended, Glen Davis, Arron Afflalo and even Hedo Turkoglu (for now anyway) are still around while Hennigan quietly continues to stockpile an array of young talent.
He is in no rush to accelerate the process, leading some to slot them among the tankers. But the Magic aren't tanking necessarily, which would imply an aggressive teardown. Instead, they're marking time until the next thing on the agenda, whether it's another veteran trade or a high lottery pick. It's a very slow and steady approach, and barring a trade or two, the books won't be totally clear until the 2015-16 season.
With more first rounders eventually on the way from Denver, Philly and the Lakers over the next three-to-five years, Hennigan seems content to patiently work the draft and find landing spots for his veterans that will yield more picks and options. Fittingly, his early returns have been solid, although far from spectacular.
In the interim, the Magic will struggle. Injuries to key veterans cost them any real chance at competitiveness last season -- they won just 20 games and finished in the bottom fifth in both offensive and defensive efficiency. But they still gave an honest night's work most evenings under first-year coach Jacque Vaughn and scored a small handful of upsets along the way.
Progress is measured incrementally in Orlando. Center Nikola Vucevic emerged as the key piece in the Howard trade. He was a minor revelation as a starter, averaging 13 points and 12 rebounds. Tobias Harris -- acquired for J.J. Redick in the deadline deal Hennigan did make -- looked like a potential All-Star in his brief showcase last season. Last year's rookies, Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson, are slowly growing into something, although what isn't exactly clear at the moment. And now here comes Victor Oladipo to provide some much needed flash in the backcourt.
Collectively, this isn't a young core that appears ready to do much damage, but there's talent emerging through the dreck.
What the Magic don't have is a franchise-altering presence. That's an unusual place for Orlando, who has already struck it rich twice in the lottery, getting Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard a dozen years apart. If that's the long-range ticket back to respectability, Hennigan could find himself stuck in the world where the other half lives, waiting for that magical combination of ping-pong balls.
There appears to be a deeper philosophy at work here, one that will take its time and exhibit patience through the down times. That's not the flashiest way to rebuild, but it seems to suit Hennigan just fine.